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[TMW]Winter and Spring

Started by GestaltBennie, June 24, 2007, 03:30:24 AM

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In preparing to run the MountainWitch, I drew on elements from my one play experience, an actual play is found here.

The graveyard and temple encounters are inspired by that session.

I've been meaning to run the Mountain Witch and Agon with mny group since Gen Con. They have never played "indie" games, and I was both interested and dreading the reaction of these D&D and HERO System players to the game. My main concern is that the group likes to metagame, a habit I dislike, and that they'd destroy the atmosphere. To this end, I decided to spend more time than usual on atmosphere and immersion, as my GMing style is often terse.

Three ronin with dark secrets made preparations to climb Mount Fuji and kill O-Yanma, the Mountain Witch. One was Akira, a storyteller with the strength of ten bears. Another was Yoshi, who could blend into any surroundings and make himself as light as a feather and who had a grudge against bandits in O-Yanma's employ. The third was Aiko, who could make herself virtually unnoticeable and cook perfect soup even (if normal ingredients were nowhere to be found) from the stones. Together, they embarked on a great and terrible journey.

Character generation went smoothly. There were some remarks that it was too hard to come up with three abilities. "Freedom's a bitch." I provided a character sheet, a one-page system quicksheet, and a list of Japanese names.

When everyone was ready, I read a poem that I lifted from an actual play on RPG.NET, then played the theme from "Princess Mononoke" and the characters introduced themselves.

Chapter 1
The PCs began the perilous trip to O-Yanma's castle at the top of Mount Fuji. They passed a graveyard at the bottom of the mountain, where they saw a grieving mother sitting in a graveyard. wailing that her three sons had been killed in battle. She cursed all wars, warlords, and samurai, blaming them for their misery. She said that the warlords had told her to dry her tears, and that her ancestors had said nothing, and her boys were still dead. Akira tried to encourage her that they were with Amaratsu, but she spat a curse and called upon the Mountain Witch to bring them back (which he did.... as jikininki).

At this point, I started combat by playing Satto (Wind Dance) by Ensemble Nipponia. I had downloaded five pieces from Itunes to use as background music. This came to be used as the combat music for the entire session.

The  jikininki sons attacked, dealing Aiko a bad shoulder wound, but as the heroes worked together, they turned the tide. Yoshi turned on the old woman, but again she called on O-Yanma to aid her, and her hair was transformed into a whip-like weapon that drew blood. Nonetheless, they subdued her. They argued whether she should be killed, but Akira persuaded them that grief excused her sins. Her anger had been so great that even her tears boiled, and Akira gathered them and put them in a pot for later use. He also spotted the grave of his former master.

The PCs did not try to aid each other in combat until close to the end of the session. As a result, most people took chapter wounds. The old woman was going to call on O-Yanma for more aid, but they took her out before more jikininki could appear.

They traveled on the path to Fuji. After spotting some normally sturdy rams lying splattered on the mountainside, they correctly deduced that this path was too treacherous for mortal man to climb, and they turned aside to find another way. They came to a bridge over a stream, but it was constructed with stones that had the shape of human faces, and their mouths begged them to cross. Yoshi took a rope, leapt across, and fixed a rope bridge. Aiko crossed, but when Akira tried, a sudden blast of cold wind froze him solid on the rope, and the rope cracked and he fell into the river. The river was itself ice, and Akira found himself sliding downstream. He managed to put his hands to the pot containing the hot tears, and freed himself just in time to avoid a waterfall.

To set the scene, I played Fuyu Momiki by Satomi Saeki And Alcvin Takegawa Ramos

Akira was not the only one frozen by the wind. In the distance he spotted a naked, beautiful man, frozen in a frozen waterfall. Again he used the pot containing the mother's hot rage to melt him. The effort used up the tears, which turned to steam and evaporated.  The man in the waterfall was the most beautiful creature any of them had ever seen. He told them that he came from the Temple of the Eternal Spring, and offered to take them there.

End of chapter. Aiko and Akira's players raised their stakes to two apiece. Yoshi's kept his the same. To start the next chapter ub a monastic mood,

Chapter 2
The beautiful man was named Ishi. He was so beautiful that it was impossible not to fall in love with him (though whether as friend, comrade, brother or lover depended on the person's inclinations). Ishi led them to the temple of the Eternal Spring, a place that was as disquietingly beautiful as Ishi, for though it was autumn elsewhere, here the trees were budding and flowers bloomed as if it were late spring. Numerous caged animals lined the walls. The monks greeted them warmly, and girls flocked to Ishi. They informed the PCs that the festival of the moon goddess Tsukuyomi was nigh. The animals would be released at midnight to fly (or run) to the goddess as an offering.

The PCs feasted, not tasting a sleeping potion placed in the brew. Ishi was being prepared as a groom for Tsukuyomi, and was bathed in people's blood to draw on their strengths, hoping the goddess would find him acceptable. The monks planned to draw the strangers' blood as well. Aiko detected the sleeping poisons in the final course, a wondrous confection from China called ice cream. She called her comrades outside and told them about the draught.

Ishi pursued her. Questioned, he knew what the monks were doing, but kept mostly silent, except to promise that they were in no danger. Though prepared for Tsukuyomi, Ishi had fallen for Aiko, so he proposed marriage to the ronin. Having little capacity for love in her heart, Aiko refused. Ishi was despondent, but tried to put forth a brave front. He fell asleep. As he slept, the PCs watched as Ishi's spirit left its body, rose into the sky and begged  the moon goddess Tsukuyomi for her hand. The moon goddess was no more receptive than Aiko, and contemptuously slapped his spirit back into his body. He awoke, rejected. This was, apparently, a monthly ritual. Ishi's spirit goes into the sky at every full moon to plight his troth, and every full moon Tsukuyomi finds him unworthy, and bats his spirit back into his body.

Forlorn, Ishi tried to persuade the PCs to shed their blood and lend him their strength, so he might purify himself for the next full moon. Perhaps, with their strength added to his, he could finally win Tsukuyomi. However, the PCs were repulsed by the whole ritual, and refused Ishi's request.

Angry, Ishi challenged Akira to a duel of wrestling. Ishi's muscles swelled to the size of his opponent's, and he proved a perfect match. After many minutes of grunting and sweating, they fought to a standstill, Ishi wished to continue the duel, but Akira reminded him that he was the one who had freed him from the waterfall, Ashamed, Ishi agreed to let them go, provided that each shed a drop of blood for the other. Akira agreed, and Ishi revealed the one true path up Mount Fuji.

The blood turned into gems which reflected the essence of each other's strength; Akira's blood became a lump of tempered gem- steel, while Ishi's became a moonstone of purity, warmth and beauty. Each swallowed the other's stone and gained some of the other's strength.

That night, the monks celebrated the moon rites with the releasing of hundreds of caged animals to honor Tsukuyomi. Aiko noticed the ugliest creature he'd ever seen, a dwarf, gibbering wildly. The dwarf was Ishi's brother; once a great samurai, he had seen the look of love on his younger brother's face when he first stared at the moon, so he sacrificed everything to make his brother presentable to Tsukuyomi, including his beauty and his skill as a samirai. Ishi was the only creature who could stand to be around hin, but that was enough.

Worried that the monks would take their blood, Ishi himself stood guard on the PCs' sleeping quarters. Geisha attended Akira and Yoshi.

In the morning, the geisha begged the male PCs for kisses, while earnest young men from the temple bowed before Aiko and serenaded her with songs and poems. She was not impressed. The PCs left the temple and headed up the one true path.

At this point, I played Hanayagi (The Greening) by Ensemble Nipponia again.

After several hours, the PCs came to a great hedge labyrinth with 20' high walls. Cat eyes darted back and forth throughout the maze; visible, but too deep within the hedge to attack, even by
It led into a labyrinth. They came to a pair of tengu guardian statues. The ground was covered in small, cracking branches, whose noise could alert the guardians at any time. Yoshi grabbed a rope and tried to leap to the top of the labyinth and pull his comrades above the guardians' notice, but a sudden gust of icy wind blew him to the ground, and the noise awoke the guardians. After dispatching the awakened tengu (whose final cry was the sound of O-Yanma's laughter), they found a statue of the Ice Goddess Yuki-Onna, who was the Mountain Witch's mistress, her arms open as if welcoming an embrace.

Akira embraced her, and a tunnel opened under her legs. (The PCs laughed somewhat in embarrassment). Unfortunately Akira was frozen stuck on the icy statue. He thought about the warmth of Ishi's stone, and called on it to melt him loose. The moon shone on the statue of Yuki-Onna, and for a brief instant, it changed into a statue of Ishi. The ice melted. No longer stuck, a slightly embarrassed Akira managed to pull himself off the statue.

They followed the tunnel to a gate, where a gate guardian was playing with dice. Eventually sensing the PCs wouldn't go away, he goaded the PC Yoshi into challenging him to a duel, even allowing Yoshi to name the terms of the contest. Yoshi choose a leaping competition. Both leapt magnificently, and the result was a draw. To resolve it, he challenged the third PC, a woman named Aiko, to a duel. She selected cooking. She won, but barely, and the gatekeeper refused to accept it. They held a second cooking competition.

The gatekeeper drugged the food with a sleeping draught, thereby cheating. The PCs then attacked him and forced him to surrender the key. He committed seppeku with a butcher's cleaver.

The key itself, like the Necronomicon from Army of Darkness, was a nibbler. Akira took the key, but sening Ishi's purity and goodness within, it spat when it bit him. Aiku took the key by its ened and stroked it. The key transformd into a cat, which strode over to the lock and opened it by licking it. The gate opened to show they were halfway up Fuji. End of session.

All in all, a good first run. Players' enthusiasm were flagging at close to the end of the session, and I wasn't doing enough to encourage PCs to share their backgrounds and generating story hooks. No one even came close to playing their fate cards and in general seemed close to revealing their Fates.

Metagaming was infrequent, with the largest chunk occurring at the chapter break. This made me very happy.

Next session, I hope to draw the characters out a little more, and encourage them a little harder to drive the story. I'll probably set up more with the dwarf brother and the bandits before they reach O-Yanma's castle. In all likelihood, next session will be two more chapters that will deliver the second act, and acts three and four will take place during the third and final session.

The players enjoyed themselves a lot, and while I worried that some of the weirdness and sexual references might be taking them aback, this didn't seem to be the case. But I got to test combat and everyone got to duel, so a large part of the learning curve has been achieved.
Scott Bennie


This is the third of a three-part session of the Mountain Witch.

In the second part, a fallen demi-god, Tomo, joined Akira, Yoshi, and Aiko in their journey up the mountain, accompanied by his wife, a demi-goddess who had been trapped in a painting by O-Yanma. After an encounter with a woman who gave birth to samurai and then psychically fed off their deaths to maintain their deaths, they discovered O-Yanma's bandits, who had kidnapped Akira's family. Akira discovered his mother had taken over as bandit leader and sold his daughter to O-Yanma. The bandits are defeated by the samurai, and Akira's mother cursed the child to whom she had given birth and hurled herself from the mountainside rather than be captured. And now they approached the gate.

Unfortunately, Tomo's player could not make the final session, leaving us again with three players. It was quite sub-optimal, in that I would rather have had more players to carry the creative spark and help craft the story. I simply had Tomo go offscreen, and let the players assume he had run away.

I decided not to let the players allocate trust yet, but continued on with an encounter that would put trust in the wringer.

The ronin encountered a woman who was standing in the center of the path, frozen. Two invisible towers were building beside her, one on each side. One cast  a long shadow of wrath over the land; where it fell, villages descended into violence and chaos and barbarism. The other cast a long shadow of despair, so where its shadow fell, there was madness, depression, and suicide. Emaciated cats nuzzled against her legs, but she was unmoved. As she stared into space, the towers grew, casting longer shadows.

If they'd gone up to her, they'd have seen that she was watching a battle where her sons had been killed, and she was standing as still as stone to hold in her emotions. Instead, they decided she was trouble and simply walked around her.

The ronin reached the edge of the castle. The castle was suspended twenty feet above them, on a platform; below, there were ghosts polishing tunnels that had been bored into the mountainside. Their supervisor, O-Yanma's Chief Gravedigger, recognized the samurai as people who were coming to kill O-Yanma, and asked them to pick out their graves. Aiko and Yoshi obliged, but Akira tried to be clever and said he'd take the grave that is yet to be dug. The Chief Gravedigger rolled his eyes and said that they'd suspend his body in the air. Akira promised to come back down the mountain after he finished destroying O-Yanma, and then "they'd see who was going to be buried". The Gravedigger laughed at the mere possibility of anyone killing the Mountain Witch.

The ronin climbed to the top of the platform, where they were greeted by the two Nio, O-Yanma's servants. Though they were destined to die at O-Yanma's hands, he was impressed that they had made it so far, so the Mountain Witch had sent them to give them each a gift. He then held out dark fate cards and asked them to draw.

I'd come up with the following for the random draw of Dark Fates:

Desperately in Love. One whom you love comes to you to spend some quality love-time. Who is he? How is he/she connected to everyone else''? (Everyone has to come up with one thing that connects them).

Past Allegiance: An item that you believed was lost is now returned to you. What is it? And what is everyone else's connection to that item?

Revenge: One of the people whom you hate more than anyone else in the world is being given over to you as a gift. You may kill or do whatever you wish to them. How is that person connected to everyone else?

True Motives: Two or three things that you believed true are now revealed as lies. The other players must invent them, and they have something to do with their character or his family.

Unholy Pact: An agreement you have made is no longer binding. It is now befallen to one of the other ronin to fulfill that obligation. Who is now the recipient of the unhappy burden? What is the agreement?

Worst Fear: You may transfer one of your worst fears to one of the other ronins. What is it that you fear and who do you give it to?

Akira drew first and picked "Desperately in Love". Suddenly Yukiko, daughter of his daimyo, appeared. She had also been a childhood friend of Aiko. One summer, she had also been Yoshi's lover. This led to an awkward exchange between the two men.

Yoshi drew next, and picked "Dark Pact". He transferred an agreement to Akira.

It took some time to come up with the actual pact. Eventually, Yoshi's player said he had been forced to agree to kill someone. I came up with the bright idea of making it Yukiko -- several years ago, Yoshi's daimyo sent Yoshi to kill her, but he was unable to do it, and they became lovers instead. This made a lot of dramatic sense, though I think my intervention here went against the spirit of the game -- I was letting old school GMing habits take too strong of a leadership role in the story.

Akira was appalled, and said that as long as the pact was imaginary (despite the presence of his physical signature on a document) that he would only imagine her dead, and that would satisfy the contract.

Finally, Aiko drew, and chose "True Motives". She learned two things she'd always believed weren't true.

One player chose "she's not as good a samurai as men". I vetoed this; sexism aside, I didn't want the secret to have a negative mechanical impact. He changed this to "her cooking isn't as good as she thinks." Since cooking the perfect meal was one of her abilities, I balked at her losing something that defined her character, and modified it to "her daimyo always hated her cooking", which didn't affect her ability, but could have a strong psychological impact. Everyone seemed to like this one.

The other player chose "her mother isn't who she thinks it is." Again, I intrervened with a bright GM idea; as I wanted to tie Yuki-Onna more closely to the story, I decided she was Yuki-Onna's daughter. "You mean the Mountain Witch is my stepfather?" Aiko's player wondered.

Akira and Yukiko share a passionate moment alone, but the "imaginary" killing turns out to have physical consequences so close to O-Yanma's magic. Akira wounds her, and Yukiko flees down the mountainside. Akira returns to his fellow ronin.

This Is when I cut the chapter break, and allowed them to allocate trust. Everyone reduced their trust awards by 1. Clearly, the players figured that some serious backstabbing was forthcoming.

The ronin enter the castle. They make their way into the kitchen, where chefs are preparing a meal for Yuki-Onna. One of the slaves is too slow at chopping vegetables, so the Chief Chef orders the others to chop him up and stick him in the pot. Akira intervenes, and a fight happens. All of the samurai are wounded, but in the end, Yoshi chops off the Chief Chef's head, which falls in the pot. The Chief Chef's tongue licks the soup, and pronounces it excellent before the head sinks to the bottom of the pot.

Yuki-Onna's majordomo enters the kitchen, and barks at the ronin that Yuki-Onna is hungry and wants her soup now. He notices the blood on their clothing, but figures that Yuki-Onni will not object.

The ronin carry the soup to Yuki-Onna's chamber, tripping through swarms of her cats as they walk. Yuki-Onna greets them courteously, and asks them how they're going to kill her lover. When the ronin express their surprise, Yuki-Onna explains: "Winter on Mount Fuji is very cold. O-Yanma is colder."

Yuki-Onna takes them to the Mountain Witch's cavernous library, where they can find a path to the Witch's chambers. After some misadventures (including Yoshi blindfolding himself, spinning around to stab a book at random, which resulted only in a fall and a knock to the head), Aiko finds a ladder that leads to a passage in the ceiling. They follow it, and find O-Yanma in a tiny, empty room, playing a koto.

They interrupt O-Yanma's performance. Akira asks how he can enjoy bringing so much misery to others. The Mountain Witch calls him a hypocrite. Did he not faithfully serve a daimyo who brought war and death in his wake?

At this point, Aiko's player revealed her dark fate: "Unholy Pact".

"I am sorry I could not find more ronin to bring you," she said. "Now do as we agreed and increase my power!"

At this point, Yoshi's player revealed his dark fate: "True Motives". He came to Fuji not to kill O-Yanma, but to steal a valuable treasure, the source of O-Yanma's power. I suggested the koto, but Yoshi's player didn't want something on O-Yanma's person. He suggested an item on the edge of the room. I added a drum to the scene.

At this point, Akira's player revealed his dark fate. "Past Allegiance." He was really in the service of the Mountain Witch and had made his own bargain with him! O-Yanma made Yukiko appear, and gave her to Akira as a gift.

O-Yanma ordered his two minions to slay Yoshi. But Aiko demanded that he increase her power, while Akira said that doing O-Yanma's dirty work wasn't part of their bargain. Peeved, O-Yanma granted Aiko's request by increasing her hiding abilities so she became intangible. "Serve me, and I will teach you how to control this," he said, changing her back. Two minions rose out of the ground to attack Yoshi.

Akira continued to defy O-Yanma, so he pulled out his contract and challenged Akira to a duel of lawyering, to find the clause in the contract that would bind the other. Akira agreed.

Dueling rules were applied. Akira's player kept his second roll, a "6". I had no satisfactory rolls, and had to eat a roll of 1. Akira scored a spectacular success. Again in bad GM mode, I didn't allow Akira's player to dictate the terms (which I should have done) but arbitrarily determined that a clause said that if O-Yanma attempted to enforce the agreement beyond its letter, then by the power of Ameratesu, his freedom was forfeit and he would become Akira's slave!

The triumphant Akira ordered O-Yanma to withdraw his minions. With Aiko at his side (despite betraying him mere moments earlier -- she was angry that the Mountain Witch had used a threat to coerce her), Yoshi tried to seize control of the drum. It fought back.

Dueling rules were used for a contest of wills between Yoshi and the drum. The drum won, and Yoshi lay prostrate on the ground, unable to get the sound out of its head.

Seeing their comrade stricken. Akira and Aiko teamed up to destroy the drum. In one mighty stroke, Akira destroyed it. O-Yanma's immortality was shattered, and he aged in an instant and turned to dust, which blew away in the cold wind of Yuki-Onna.

With The Mountain Witch slain, the slaves, Yuki-Onna, and Yuki-Onna's cats celebrated their freedom. Yuki-Onna discovered Aiko was her long-missing daughter. In her daughter's embrace, the Winter Queen was transformed from a creature of winter to summer. Then, in gratitude, she gave her daughter's hand to Yoshi in marriage. This did not please Aiko at all, and she immediately began contemplating escaping the marriage.

The ronin come down the mountain to the Temple of Eternal Spring. Ishi and his brother Ogai, no longer a dwarf but now a great samurai, pledge themselves to Akira's banner and promise an army of samurai. With the two noble brothers as his lieutenants, as well as the talents of Yoshi and Aiko, and the favor of Yuki-Onna, Akira quickly raises a force that pushes aside anyone who opposes him. Akira becomes shogun, and brings unparalleled peace and prosperity to the once-troubled land of Nippon.

In 1932, at the headquarters of Vancouver's team of pulp adventurers, the Specialists, rocket man Billy Deighton, who had been teaching himself Japanese, put down the book.

"What'cha reading kid?" Jack Roscoe said. Billy handed him the book and Jack raised an eyebrow at the Japanese characters. Billy turned to Kando Rimi, the Japanese spy he knew as "Sarah Ann".

"That was a great story!" he said.

I wanted to bring things back to the pulp game that's been on hiatus for two months, hence the Newhart-like ending.

In general, this was a very successful mini-campaign; all players enjoyed themselves a lot and it ended on a good note. It would have been better if I had a pool of 5-6 players and been able to shoulder more of the creative burden; none of the three players are particularly extroverted, and getting players to set the scene was a struggle at times. Everyone held onto their dark fates until the last moment, and there was no attempt at foreshadowing them. In particularly, the sudden reversal of Akira came out of left field. I found myself wishing the system had something more in the way of rewarding early revelations, rather than encouraging players to play poker and hold onto things until the last moment. I didn't feel like I had full player investment until the card draw/gift sequence, when players began to come out of their shells.

I do think it's mostly an artifact of player personalities, that they liked to sneak around and play things low-key, and prefer to stay in the background (two of the characters had "Don't Notice Me" abilities), which doesn't lend itself into a system like TMW, which demands pro-active players. It may also have been that I didn't trust them enough with the story, or at least, I didn't trust them to drive it at a good pace and still be creative. In retrospect, starting everyone out as neutral (neither friend nor enemy zodiacs) was a problem, as the zodiacs are an important hook to drive the players in the early game.

I had done a lot of work on interesting encounters, but I think the scale of those sequences intimidated them and told them "watch, don't input". The lesson for next time -- give the players more control and concentrate less on traditional RPG staging and sequencing, and more on player input and building collaboratively from player ideas. It's a trick, isn't it?
Scott Bennie

Ron Edwards

Hi Scott,

That's a great write-up. It should serve as a model for teaching people about the game.

At the end, you wrote,

QuoteThe lesson for next time -- give the players more control and concentrate less on traditional RPG staging and sequencing, and more on player input and building collaboratively from player ideas. It's a trick, isn't it?

I'm not sure "trick" is the right word. It's certainly an issue. I think the best way to approach it is to share the book. It's full of the right sort of color and mystery, and reading even one section is usually enough to get an idea of the general philosophy of play.

There's a weird subcultural feature to a lot of role-playing. It is, "One guy owns and reads the book. This guy then interprets and summarizes the book to everyone else. Everyone else interacts with this guy, but not with the book." And this is somehow supposed to be integrated with the one person convincing the others not only to "play right," but to play at all. And that is somehow supposed to be integrated with the GM-task duties of that person as well, like playing NPCs and framing scenes and stuff like that.

I suggest trying to break that feature. Let anyone else's interaction with the book be the equal of your interaction with it. That's not to say you've been hiding it or preventing them from having it, but perhaps the converse is the case - they simply don't deal with the book because they figure that's your job.

I don't know if what I'm talking about truly applies in your case, but if it does to any extent, then I suggest passing the book around and letting the desire to play The Mountain Witch proceed from shared interest.

Best, Ron

Sydney Freedberg

I'm blown away by some of the fairy-tale wonders and horrors you've incorporated in this game. What were your sources and inspirations? How much did you prep as opposed to inventing on the fly? And how much did you invent without any knowledge of who the player-characters were going to be, as opposed to inventing things in response to the characters the players created? I suspect part of your problem with player participation may have been in giving them so much rich detail that existed independently of their input that they were hesitant to add anything of their own.

I'm also curious about the way you implented "dark fates" midway through the mini-campaign, as opposed to during character creation -- that's not the way it's written in the rules, is it? Why did you deviate, and what were the pros and cons?

Ron Edwards

Hey Sydney,

Yeah, that is kind of weird. By the rules, the Dark Fates are passed out as the very first step of character creation. I've observed that step to play a real and valuable role in all the subsequent choices about one's character.

Yet, on the other hand, I guess this modification seemed to work pretty well. I'm echoing your questions.

Best, Ron


Hi there,

I don't want to be perceived as critiquing since you had some really nice content going on there.  But you said it yourself that you wove a pretty complex tale without a lot of room for the players to move in.  So I wanted to add my experiences to see if they would help.

When I've run/played TMW, the GM notes that were brought to the table were typically a short list of blurbs like "human heads on pikes" or "a giant who won't let you pass unless one Ronin is sacrificed".  After character generation was done, I as GM took a few minutes to work out some possible conflicts between the characters.  In fact, when I ran this as a con game, I took a page from The Shab-al-Hiri Roach and had each player tell me why trusted or mistrusted the character on their left/right.  It let to an immediate tension at the table as the players didn't know who to really trust.

Once play started, I really leaned on the players for content and let them know that they weren't going to get punished for it.  Someone would walk into the mouth of a cave and I would say something like, "you hear a woman's voice calling you.  Who is it?"  Or they would enter the giant's lean-to and I would ask them to describe what the interior looked like.

Another important point for moving the story forward is the interlude between Acts.  At the end of the first Act, the rules suggest to stop the action and let the players talk in character for awhile to work things out.  You as GM have the power to withhold the second Act until they bring up some personal conflicts to the forefront and at least hint at their Dark Fates.

But you know what?  It sounds like this was a fun learning experience for you and your players.  I think you'll be surprised how the experience changes the next time you play this game, or another one with collaborative scene framing.  You'll trust the players more and they will have more confidence to come up with cool content to drive the story into areas that you would have never imagined!

Chris B.


Sorry for the delayed response. I spent three days on the road earlier this week heading to Gen Con and the con's taken up much of my time since. A few quick 2am thoughts:

Thanks for the suggestions on encouraging a more collaborative style of play and coaxing people not to sit on their Dark Fates. Next time, I'll play closer attention to the use of interludes

Just to clarify... the players did get their Dark Fates at the start. I later used the Dark Fate deck a second time as a randomizing device, mainly to reinforce the themes in the deck and emphasize its importance in the game. Sorry about the confusion.

As for inspirations for the game, aside from the occasional dip into Japanese myth and my love for the films of Miyazaki, much of it came from the game at last year's GenCon that I linked in the first post. Many of the encounters were "variations on a theme"; each game began with an encounter with a mother who had lost her sons in battle and was dealing with it in different ways, and the undercurrent of a Japan that was falling apart because of the ravenous appetite of warlords for battle was one I hoped the characters would sink their teeth into. I had a one-paragraph description of most situations, and improvised from there. I didn't know the characters before the first session, but afterwards I tailored all situations accordingly.
Scott Bennie